The tragic accident that claimed the life of a popular former Ocean City local and Baltimore restaurateur sent shock waves through the communities on both sides of the Chesapeake this week with his friends both grieving his passage and celebrating his amazing life at the same time.
Patrick M. “Scunny” McCusker died last Friday after colliding with an Ocean City bus while riding his bicycle along Coastal Highway in the area of 132nd Street.
As a reporter with The Dispatch for over a dozen years, I’ve written countless articles about tragedies and untimely deaths, and I’m a little embarrassed to say that after a while, one often becomes desensitized or detached even from the subject matter. In this tragic case, I am very much attached.
Scunny would want his legions of friends not to mourn his passing, but celebrate his remarkable life, and in that spirit, I am attempting to keep it light.
To say Scunny was accident prone is an understatement. He lost the tip of a finger in a bicycle chain as a kid and that “stub” was a prop in many of his stories and pranks over the years.
He had already taken a trip on a helicopter to Shock Trauma in college when he broke his neck after getting clipped on a dance floor while listening to his favorite band, Rocket 88. He once hung a hammock in his bedroom at his Ocean City townhouse after screwing the hooks only into the paneling and not the studs. That resulted in a crash onto a rowing machine on the floor below and another trip to the hospital.
The list goes on and on, but through it all, he always came out okay and the result was another great story to be told over and over, each time with a little more elaboration, which makes last Friday’s accident even more painful.
Those close to him can only imagine a story starting with “So I’m on my bike and a bus comes along…” Only this time, the punch line never came, only a punch in the gut for those who loved him so much.
Scunny’s huge persona was matched, perhaps, only by his incredibly huge heart. His often larger-than-life personality only masked his charitable and kind nature. His pet charity was the Believe in Tomorrow Foundation and the story goes he donated over 16,000 meals to the beneficiaries of the program over the years.
Sometimes, his charitable efforts were well publicized, including the time he paddled a kayak from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to a Believe in Tomorrow benefit at Seacrets in Ocean City, raising over $100,000 in the process.
More often than not, however, his acts of kindness went unreported, known only to a few closest to him, like tickets to an O’s game that found their way into the pockets of kids that otherwise might never get a chance to go, or a little extra cash stuffed in the pocket of an employee or friend struggling with rent or an electric bill.
To borrow liberally, and with all due respect, from the famous dedication on the front of the old Memorial Stadium Scunny loved so much, “Time will not dim the glory of his deeds.” Throughout the week, the news of the tragic passing brought thousands of old friends together with late-night phone calls and text messages from vast circles that overlapped with Scunny in the center.
Life comes at you fast, and death often comes at you faster, and if there is a lesson to be learned in this tragedy, it is hug your spouse, kiss your babies and call your family and friends, because you just never know and nobody is promised a tomorrow.
His passing brought to mind this week a long-forgotten poem written by Charles Hanson Towne about the loss of an old friend and the importance, now more than ever, of keeping in touch with those one loves the most.
Around the corner I have a friend
In this great city that has no end
Yet the days go by and the weeks rush on, and before I know it a year is gone.
And I never see my old friend’s face
For life is a swift and terrible race
He knows I like him just as well
As in the days when I rang his bell
And he rang mine, but we were younger then, and now we’re busy, tired men. Tired of playing a foolish game, tired of trying to make a name.
“Tomorrow” I say, “I will call on Jim.
Just to show that I’m thinking of him,” But tomorrow comes and tomorrow goes, and the distance between us grows and grows.
Around the corner, yet miles away “Here’s a telegram, sir. Jim died today.” And that’s what we get and deserve in the end. Around the corner, a vanished friend.
And he rang mine but we were younger then, And now we are busy, tired men. Tired of playing a foolish game, Tired of trying to make a name. "Tomorrow" I say! "I will call on Jim Just to show that I’m thinking of him", But tomorrow comes and tomorrow goes, And distance between us grows and grows. Around the corner, yet miles away, "Here’s a telegram sir," "Jim died today." And that’s what we get and deserve in the end. Around the corner, a vanished friend